I am divorced. Worse yet, I am a divorced Catholic. Of course, the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize divorce. A Catholic must pursue an annulment to dissolve a marriage. Even then, an annulment does not terminate a marriage; rather, it says that marriage never took place.
When I received notification that my divorce was final, I told a friend and she high-fived me. It didn’t feel like a high-five moment. My former husband hadn’t been cruel to me. He never called me names, lifted his hand or raised his voice to me. He had never been to a strip club. He had never looked at pornography. He simply had too much respect for himself and women to do so. His friends teased him about this calling him: ‘Mr. Clean’. And he was. He was also well-educated, funny, kind, devout, tall, fit, dark-haired and very handsome. He was a Catholic educator, and a great dancer. He wrote me love letters in calligraphy. I didn’t appreciate how rare a find he was until years after I’d left him.
I was grateful to him for pursuing an annulment so quickly. I was afraid of the annulment process, but it was that process that enabled us to find the closure we both sorely needed.
At the marriage tribunal, two older priests and a young curate sat across a broad, wooden conference table from me, a tape recorder positioned between us. At my word the young priest switched it on. He asked if I knew what a Catholic union entailed. I was twenty-two when I wed and I honestly answered that I had no true idea of what a Catholic commitment in marriage necessitated. They asked if I’d willingly entered into the marriage and again, I responded ‘no’. I’d tried to break things off before our marriage on at least three occasions, but my husband would not let me go telling me that I’d never find anyone to love me as he did. My mother told me I’d never find anyone to ever love me at all, something she’d told me all my life. Pressure came from all directions for me to wed.
I was asked what my thoughts were when I first saw my husband. I felt my throat constrict and my eyes fill with tears. One priest turned off the recorder and another fetched me some water.
“Take your time,” he said, handing me the glass.
My hand trembled slightly as I sipped slowly. “He had the kindest eyes I’d ever seen,” I said. Then I wept.
The young priest asked me to come with him for a smoke. I didn’t smoke but I accompanied him outside. As he puffed on a cigarette, he said to me, “You have your annulment. You only need two considerations on this checklist, and you have several. You didn’t enter into the matter of your own free will and you didn’t know what a Catholic marriage entailed. Your annulment will be granted.”
I left the tribunal feeling somewhat saddened but I knew that I had started the healing process. It would take years before I felt in anyway whole but that had not to do with the dissolution of my Catholic marriage. That was the result of growing up in an abusive, volatile home. That was the reason that I couldn’t love my wonderful husband and accept his love in turn. If you don’t love yourself, you cannot accept love from another. It would take me decades to understand that. A lifetime.